Canada: Violating Employer's Trust - Grounds For "With Cause" Termination

Dismissing an employee without notice on the basis of "cause" can only be justified by misconduct of the most serious kind and it is often difficult for employers to successfully argue a "with cause" termination. The recent BC Supreme Court decision of Steel v. Coast Capital Savings Credit Union indicates that violation of trust placed by an employer in an employee may be sufficient to justify a "with cause" termination. The termination in this case arose from an employee's unauthorized access of a document held in the personal folder of another employee, which was located on the employer's computer network.

Background Facts

At the time of her termination, Ms. Steel had been employed by Coast Capital for just over 20 years and had held the position of Helpdesk analyst in the IT Department for over 10 years. As Helpdesk analyst, Ms. Steel provided internal technical assistance to other employees of Coast Capital when they experienced trouble with the network. As a result, she was able to access any document or file on the network. Although the position was not at the managerial level, the Helpdesk analyst was unsupervised on a day-to-day basis and no-one monitored the documents that the analyst accessed or the reasons for such access.

The job description for the Helpdesk analyst included the following:

  • At all time, abide by the corporate policies regarding professional conduct (i.e. Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest policies, Policy of Dishonest Conduct, dress code, etc.)
  • Be a positive role model and lead by example
  • Help maintain security of physical premises, property and information as per internal control procedures, as well as a safe workplace as per WCB requirement
  • Respect the privacy and confidentiality of all customer and staff information at all times

In addition to the broader statements in the Helpdesk analyst's job description regarding privacy and confidentiality, Coast Capital had also adopted policies and protocols with respect to access to information.

Each employee on Coast Capital's internal system was assigned a "personal folder" which was maintained on the network for the sole use of the employee. The personal folder was intended to be used for confidential information relating to the company and the information contained in the personal folder could only be read or edited by the employee assigned to the folder. The only exception to this general rule related to employees such as the Helpdesk analysts, who were permitted to access other employee personal folders in order to assist with technical problems. However, such access had to be first authorized by the employee who had been assigned the personal folder or approved by the VP of corporate security.

Termination of Ms. Steel's Employment

Coast Capital had a limited number of parking stalls available to be assigned to employees at the IT Department's workplace and the manager of Coast Capital's Facilities and Purchasing Department (the "Facilities Manager") maintained a spreadsheet in her personal folder for the purpose of assigning the stalls. The spreadsheet designated a list of priorities for the limited number of parking stalls, and included confidential employee information such as pay grades and seniority dates. Ms. Steel did not have a parking stall and was affected by the list of priorities contained in the spreadsheet.

In July 2008, the Facilities Manager informed Ms. Steel's supervisor that she had tried to access the parking priorities spreadsheet but had received a systems message advising that the document was already in use by Ms. Steel. Upon learning that Ms. Steel had accessed the spreadsheet without authorization from the Facilities Manager (to whom the personal folder was assigned), or the VP of corporate security, Coast Capital terminated Ms. Steel's employment several days later on a "with cause" basis. In the termination letter, Coast Capital advised Ms. Steel that her unauthorized access of the parking priorities spreadsheet had resulted in Coast Capital losing confidence in her judgment and that her actions had irreparably damaged the employment relationship.

Wrongful Dismissal Action

Ms. Steel commenced an action against Coast Capital, claiming that she had been wrongfully dismissed.

Ms. Steel's evidence at trial was that she had accessed the parking priorities spreadsheet to assist her supervisor, who was involved in the parking designation process. This evidence was refuted by the supervisor, who advised that he had never asked for the document and had indicated at a department meeting that he would discuss the parking issue with the Facilities Manager directly.

The evidence also showed that as part of her annual review, Ms. Steel acknowledged that she had reviewed, understood and signed off on several Coast Capital policies relating to privacy and confidentiality.

The Court found that Ms. Steel had accessed the parking priorities spreadsheet for her own purposes and without permission to do so, and that these actions violated Coast Capital policies and protocols regarding confidential information. The BC Supreme Court held that, in these circumstances, Ms. Steel's actions in accessing the Facilities Manager's personal folder document, justified her termination without notice.

In upholding Ms. Steel's termination as justified, the court found that Ms. Steel held a position of great trust in an industry in which trust is of central importance. In that regard, the court noted that "a relationship of trust has been found to be particularly critical in the banking industry where employees are held to a higher standard of trust than employees in other commercial and industrial undertakings". In addition, Ms. Steel's significant autonomy in her position justified holding her to a higher standard of trust: "the greater the autonomy the employee enjoys, the more fundamental trust becomes to the employment relationship". The court held that it was not practicable for Coast Capital to monitor the documents that Ms. Steel accessed and the purpose for which she accessed them. Instead, it had to trust its employee to obey the policies and follow the protocols that it had established for confidential information.

What can employers take from this decision?

  • If any principles (such as privacy or confidentiality) are critical to the employer and the employee's position, those principles should be reflected in the written policies and protocols of the company and the job description for the applicable position.
  • The written policies and protocols should be clear and must be communicated to the employee by the employer.
  • The employee's annual review potentially provides a valuable opportunity for the employer to confirm the employee's awareness of key policies and protocols.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions